Herpes written in scrabble blocks image

Genital herpes – what is there to worry about?

How common is genital herpes?

Genital herpes (or HSV) is really common, and around 70% of us will acquire either type 1 or type 2 in our lifetime. Of that 70% only about 1/3 will show obvious symptoms such as genital blisters or sores.

What is there to worry about?

Despite the fact that genital herpes is a common and harmless STI, some people can really struggle to adjust to having it. For those that do struggle with it the key themes  are often around, feeling ‘contaminated’, feeling ashamed and feeling anxious about future sex and relationships. One of the difficulties can be that perceived stigma about herpes can lead to people feeling unable to talk about it. This self enforced secrecy can then itself become a barrier to adjusting and coping.

What helps?

We really advocate only visiting sites with reputable reassuring information such as The Herpes Virus Association  Here you’ll find information about your health, how to manage reoccurrences of symptoms and reassuring facts about transmission. (Plus read their excellent piece on how the herpes stigma was born due to pharma companies ‘disease mongering’ ) Do avoid non reputable sites or message boards. As with all health conditions, you’ll often only find people who are really struggling or have had bad experiences telling their story, and this can give you a distorted view of herpes.

Be kind to yourself

Try and be as compassionate to yourself as you’d be to a friend who was confiding in you. What would you say to them? Would you tell them it was their fault? That no one would ever want them again? That it was a big disaster? No? Try and afford yourself the same care and understanding.

Talk, talk, talk

Friends and family can be a good source of support and reassurance, use them as much as you can. Given how common it is, you may also find that people you talk to might also share with you that they have herpes too.

If you feel this isn’t enough, or if you are struggling with feeling low, shame, or worrying about future relationships psychologists who work in sexual health are well placed to help people manage the impact of herpes in their life. A short course of talking therapy can help you to gain a new perspective, consider sex and relationships and move away from shame. Ultimately, to not have herpes on your mind so much.


Dr Karen Gurney, Clinical Psychologist and Psychosexologist- The Havelock Clinic

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